award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host

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Allow Others to Respond on Their Terms

“Allow individuals to respond on their terms and not yours – if you want a relationship to prosper.”

A family member asked for my assistance to determine options to resolve a personal issue.  During our discussion, this family member told me about a conflict with another family member.  The issue was that the family member who contacted me did not want to have any further contact with the other family member, unless there was compliance with their terms to continue the discussion and/or resolve the conflict.

My response to the family member who contacted me was, “You’re surprised that this individual is not responding to your ultimatum?!?!?!”  The response received was interesting because the family member who contacted me said that the other family member was given an opportunity to engage in a discussion to resolve their conflict; however, the other party still had not made contact to continue their discussion.

The challenge with this situation – and others like it – is that the family member who contacted me only provided a single option to continue a discussion to resolve the conflict which was --- do as I direct you, on my terms, and then we can have a conversation; otherwise, I do not want to speak with you. My view on this approach is, “This is not the way to begin or reach a mutually beneficial discussion or outcome, respectively.”

My advice – to this family member’s request for feedback – is shared via the following unrelated example, which is dissected to convey the impact of a directed versus an inquiry conversation:

Directed Example:

Let’s go to the dance club on the corner of 5th and Washington on Friday night.

* Let’s go (direct someone to do something)

* to the dance club on the corner of 5th and Washington (to a specific location)

* on Friday night. (at a specified time)

Inquiry Example:

Do you want to go somewhere this weekend?  If so, where?

* Do you (determine an interest)

* want to go somewhere (to go to any location)

*   this weekend? (at a non-specified time)

* If so, where? (request potential locations)

The directed example makes it more likely for someone to follow with the plan as the communication provides a specific directive.  Conversely, the inquiry example provides an open invitation to engage in a mutually decided activity at an unspecified place, time, and location.

This example is purposely simplistic to illustrate that one’s communication method (words, delivery, and tone) can have an impact on any response received.   This is a reason that it is useful for individuals to not lead someone toward a certain direction without an allowance for options , which will minimize the opportunity for someone to feel compelled to respond a certain way.

​Communication that uses a directed position versus the use of an inquiry can be the difference between reaching a negotiated outcome versus leading toward an outcome that is not mutually beneficial.  Therefore, ensure – to the extent possible – that there is open communication to maximize the potential for feedback or different options.